la belle France…grab a baguette and feast on five (or six) French stories

from asya-all dot com“The winter, it is very long, non? And the cold, so terrible.”

Why not pack your bags and travel to Paris in Springtime? Sit in a sidewalk café; listen to accordion music; order a pastry and coffee. Soak up la belle vie.

Or just get a baguette, stir up some hot chocolate, and visit France with your kids via these stories!

anatole cover imageAnatole, by Eve Titus, illustrated by Paul Galdone
published in 1956 by Alfred A. Knopf

Anatole, the cleverest mouse in all France, has been a hero for over 50 years now. There are several stories about him, but this is the original.

When the honorable Anatole discovers that the humans of Paris consider his kind a terrible nuisance, he sets out to redeem his reputation.

His destination: The Duval Cheese Factoryanatole illustration paul galdone

His secret weapon: A typewriter and a keen set of taste buds

His mission: Teach Monsieur Duval how indispensable is one Anatole of France!

You will thoroughly enjoy the cheesy success of Anatole, “a mouse magnifique!” in this classic storybook.

Paul Galdone’s charming mice in their smocks and berets, and quaint Parisian environs won a Caldecott Honor in 1957. 

If you’ve missed this old favorite — and I’m afraid many of you have– be sure to introduce yourself and your kids ages 4 and up.

the memory of an elephant cover imageThe Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey, by Sophie Strady, illustrated by Jean-François Martin
published in France by hélium in 2012; first published in the U.S. in 2014 by Chronicle Books

This is the first of three French imports in today’s list, each of which is strikingly unusual.

The first exciting thing about this book is its size. There’s something about pulling an 11×14 book off the shelf that makes your eyebrows rise! Curiosity tingles! What have we here?!

photo 1

Open it up, and you begin an unconventional tour of  both Elephant-ness and the eclectic memories of Marcel — a very old elephant — gathered through the course of his long life.

The ribbon of storyline trailing through the book tells about Marcel’s day — eating massive amounts of comestibles, dressing in natty outfits, working on his exhaustive encyclopedia, and the memory of an elephant illustration jean-francois martindiscovering a mountain of exciting packages addressed to him! What could they be?!

Along the way, patches of elephant trivia are pasted and sandwiched in. While Marcel is showering, for example, we learn lots about his enormous body — his trunk alone weighs 290 pounds!

Then, there’s the surprising extras in this text. Like a swirl of chocolate wrapped in those buttery folds of croissant!

Marcel has picked up an astonishing amount of knowledge in his lifetime — all sorts of bits such as kinds of hats, the architecture of skyscrapers, musical instruments from around the world, famous ships, and so much more! He’s compiling this into an encyclopedia, and some of his fascinating pages are included for us to enjoy. They are outlandishly fun to read!

memoryofanelephant illustration jean-francois martin 2

Et voilà! There is even a recipe for “La Crêpe Marcelette”.

That’s a happy and utterly unique combination of ingredients in one picture book!

The gorgeous illustration work by Martin will intrigue young readers as well as adults. In fact, if you love design, you’ll love this book on the design merits alone. There’s a lot packed in here.

It’s a delicious, quirky offering for ages 7-ish through adult.

51EMsv--OjL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Zeraffa Giraffa, by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Jane Ray
published in 2014 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

True Story: Back in the 1820s, Muhammad Ali, a powerful ruler in Egypt, sent gifts to the King of France, among which was an extremely unusual animal:

Long,  gangly legs.

Brown, splotchy body.

Sleek, tall neck that telescoped its head to tree-level!

It was…a giraffe. The first giraffe ever seen in France.

zeraffa giraffa illustration jane ray

Diane Hofmeyr traces the journey of that giraffe, named Zeraffa, from its babyhood on the hot plains of Africa, through episodes of sailing the Nile, crossing the Mediterranean, and walking 550 miles past throngs of gawkers, until she arrives to tumultuous acclaim in Paris.

Has there ever been another giraffe-frenzy like this one?!giraffe cookies

Jane Ray’s jewel-like illustrations are always tingly with sumptuous color, fairy-tale delicacy, and graceful line. Every page is a feast for the eyes.

Enjoy this with kids ages 4 and up, and while you’re at it — you might need to bake some giraffe cookies!

hello mr hulot cover image

Hello, Mr. Hulot, a (nearly) wordless book by David Merveille according to Jacques Tati
published in France in 2010 by Rouergue; first published in the U.S. in 2013 by NorthSouth Books

Jacques Tati  (1907-1982) was a French actor and filmmaker, whose comic character, Mr. Hulot, is apparently his most famous.

Mr. Hulot is a “blundering” fellow in a “wrinkled coat…short trousers…striped socks with straps…hat, pipe, and umbrella.” He naively wanders into trouble and mayhem and the most unexpected, surprising situations.

Graphic artist David Merveille has taken Tati’s film sequences and turned them into picture books like this one, in which wordless panels act as a sort of silent film adventure for us.

You won't believe what happens next with this snow globe!

You won’t believe what happens next with this snow globe!

There are 22 comic strips, as it were, each of which is two pages long, printed front to back on a page. They are wordless — we have to figure out the unfolding action ourselves. The genius here is that when we turn the page to find the ending — it’s always a zing! An ingenuous, surprising twist!

These storylines are great fun, and observing the details is, too. Marveille’s clean, clear style is reminiscent of Tintin, to my eye.

Watch a clip of the film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot here on Youtube, and you can see for yourself Tati’s breezy comic style, and understand what a feat it is for Marveille to transpose that into the picture book format.

Ages 5 to adult.

when chickens grow teeth cover imageWhen Chickens Grow Teeth: A Story from the French of Guy de Maupassant, retold and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
published in 1996 by Orchard Books

In a small French village as old as stones, there lives a large, laughing man named Antoine.

Antoine is a bit like Rip Van Winkle. He loves life. Loves to take it easy and indulge in cream puffs, bocci ball, and leisurely conversation. This makes him the friend of all…except…his wife.

Madame Colette is a hot-tempered, snappish, old thing. She’s skinny and peckish, forever raising her vexed tongue at the oafishness of her husband and anyone else who happens to be in the way.

These two!when chickens grow teeth illustration wendy anderson halperin

One day, Antoine takes a bad tumble and now, more than ever, he cannot budge from bed. His many friends take pity on him, dote on him, gather round to keep him company, all of which makes Madame Colette seethe in fury about “the big buttered bun” she has to take care of!

That’s until one fellow hatches an idea! A plum plan for Antoine to be useful while he lounges in that warm bed. Antoine blusters a bit about it, but in the end, there’s nothing for him but to agree.

What is this crazy plan? And how does it end up making both Antoine and his feisty Colette, happy?

This is a retelling of a tale by the famous French writer, Guy de Maupassant, whose mustachioed face appears in Wendy Halperin Anderson’s typically fetching illustrations. Soft, detailed watercolor-and-pencil scenes of portly Antoine, scrawny Colette, and a fine flock of feathered hens communicate great personality and atmosphere.

A spicy, clever, rollicking story for ages 5 and up.

a lion in paris cover imageA Lion in Paris, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
published in France in 2006 by Autrement; first published in English in 2014 by Tate Publishing, London

Here’s another oversized French import whose exceptional illustrations won a Bologna Ragazzi award in 2007, perhaps the most prestigious, international children’s book award offered.

It’s a bit of a quiet, quirky story about a “young, curious, and lonely lion” who heads to Paris on a search for new meaning and joy in life.

a lion in paris illustration beatrice allemagna

As he roams about, from the Gare de Lyon, to Centre Pompidou, the Louvre, Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower…we get a gentle tour of Paris. In the end, he finds just the spot to be thoroughly happy — at the center of everyone’s attention, just as a lion should be. You’ll have to read to find out where that is.

Alemagna has pieced together stunning mixed media collages full of free-spirited detail and urban, Parisian grace. Against backgrounds often tinted in grayish blues, the warm golden Lion grabs our focus on each page. I especially love him, windblown and wee, atop the Eiffel Tower! These illustrations are not childish in the least, and again, if you are a design person, you will eat them up.

a lion in paris illustration beatrice alemagna 2

For those who know Paris, the book is probably more enjoyable as places are not identified other than the lion’s final destination. Perhaps, though, it will whet your appetite for a jaunt to stroll the Champs-Élysées yourself! Ages 3 and up.

Bon appetit! Please note that two book covers shown today are the French versions. They are both available in English under the titles I’ve listed.